• Fiona Smith

IFNC hosts briefing on natural capital for policymakers

Updated: Jul 14



THIS week the Forum was delighted to hold an online policy briefing aimed at Irish policymakers and civil servants. More than 100 attendees learned about key natural capital concepts and the need for Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) to be integrated into Irish policy.

The policy briefing outlined how the natural capital concept underpins the EU Green Deal, and will be central to the success of several measures proposed in the Programme for Government, from new measures of wellbeing and economic progress to the National Land Use Review.

Speakers included:

Jane Stout, Professor in Botany, Trinity College Dublin and Founding Chair of the Irish Forum on Natural Capital, who explained how natural capital is vital to achieving the SDGs and described our work so far in laying the foundations for NCA in Ireland, including organising the groundbreaking National Biodiversity Conference in 2019.

Micheal O’Briain, Deputy Head of the Nature Unit, DG Environment, European Commission, who made the point that over half of global GDP is linked to nature, so the EU’s ambitious plan to restore nature is key to any recovery. He stressed the urgency to act now to combat biodiversity loss, and that any action needs to be made across government, under a new governance model.


We are not just facing the sixth mass extinction, we are facing our first global mass extermination - and it's human-induced

Micheal O’Briain


Micheal then handed over to his colleague Jakub Wejchert - Policy Officer at the Biodiversity Unit, DG Environment, European Commission - who spoke about Natural Capital Accounting at the European level and how measuring the contributions of nature to the economy can help to bring us “beyond GDP”.

Stephen Kinsella, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Limerick - who will be

heading up Phase 3 of our INCASE project - gave his perspective on linking Natural Capital to national accounting, including recent research to develop a new metric that takes into account the value of nature – there's further reading in our recent blog on Gross Ecosystem Product.

Orlaith Delargy, Executive Coordinator at the Irish Forum on Natural Capital, explained how Natural Capital is already a key feature of many national policies, including Project Ireland 2040, Heritage Ireland 2030, and the National Climate Change Action Plan. In relation to the National Planning Framework and sustainable growth of compact cities and towns, “a streamlined and coordinated approach to development” is needed - and NCA can act as a tool for policy coordination. She pointed out that the National Biodiversity Action Plan, up for review next year, includes targets to ‘initiate Natural Capital Accounting’ and ‘develop a Natural Capital Asset register.’

In the subsequent Q&A session, important points raised by attendees included the need to take account of the spiritual value of the natural world – work has been done to include spiritual value in cultural ecosystem services, and although challenging to value via a monetary approach, taking a qualitative approach can be useful. See https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212041616301942 and this article.

Other questions from participants in the session included:

How is the 'extent' of the ecosystem determined - is this based on the current extent, the past extent prior to any deterioration, or the future potential of the ecosystem?

“Extent” is usually calculated based on the landuse/habitat maps, and so can be calculated for whenever maps are available - past, present and future scenarios. Here’s a link to how the SEEA (System of Environmental Economic Accounting) sets this out, plus the specific working group.

NCA is logical and will be very useful but seems quite theoretical at present ... any practical examples?


Our EPA-backed INCASE project is a pilot programme applying NCA in Irish catchments - we update our progress there on a regular basis, so please sign up to our newsletters.


Many councils in the UK, EU and beyond have officially included NCA in their strategy, here’s a guest blog by Derry & Strabane’s Green Infrastructure officer on its usage.

What does the Forum see as the main barriers to the adoption of the Natural Capital Accounting approach in Ireland at the policy level?

At the moment, the main barrier is that many are not yet familiar with the concept or are very vague on what it means and how to apply it. This is where the IFNC can help. We are driving the conversation on natural capital in Ireland, collating and disseminating information on developments in the area. Our website includes an FAQ, glossary, Quick Reads, explainer videos from experts and a host of research and resources.

If you have any follow-up queries in relation to the briefing, or if you feel your organisation could benefit from a similar or tailored talk on Natural Capital Accounting, please contact Orlaith at coordinator@naturalcapitalireland.com


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